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The Gospel and the Sacraments Direct our Faith to the Same Object

I do so appreciate the opportunity to interact with Rev. Winzer on the Puritanboard. I learned long ago not to bristle when he challenges me on a statment I make. He challenged me today on my use of some sloppy terminology with respect to the sacraments and caused me to delve back into the Confession and the Heidelberg to determine the meaning of the Sacraments.

From Rev. Winzer:

Rich, thus far we have the gospel indiscriminately preached to all, whilst sacraments are administered to those in the visible church. We also have faith in the gospel essential to salvation whilst sacramental participation is not essential to salvation. The third and final point I am fairly sure you will concur with is that the gospel offers salvation as a present need, whereas sacraments are administered on the basis that salvation is a reality. Hence, the gospel is really and fundamentally a promise, whilst sacraments point to the fulfilment of the promise. Given these three qualifications, I would say the idea that sacraments are gospel is an unhelpful one, and it is best to distinguish Word (gospel) and Sacraments. Blessings!

When I think of promise in the Sacraments, I’m thinking along these lines:

WCF Chapter XXVII

III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

Heidelberg:

Question 66. What are the sacraments?

Answer: The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.

Especially in Question 67, the Heidelberg underlines that both word and sacrament ar meant to point us to Christ. I realize that, after reading this, the Heidelberg distinguishes as you do from the teaching of the Gospel and assurance by the Sacraments. I need to be cleaner in my terminology. I won’t say they are Gospel but I will say they direct our faith to the same object that the Word does.

Question 67. Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation? (a)

Answer: Yes, indeed: for the Holy Ghost teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon that one sacrifice of Christ which he offered for us on the cross.

In Question 69, I love the way the Heidelberg links the sacrament as a visible sign that can be used to help us remember what was done for us by the sacrifice of Christ for us who have faith:

Question 69. How art thou admonished and assured by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to thee?

Answer: Thus: That Christ appointed this external washing with water, (a) adding thereto this promise, (b) that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, (c) as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.

And to anticipate the objections of those who believe too much is being promised here:

Question 71. Where has Christ promised us, that he will as certainly wash us by his blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism?

Answer: In the institution of baptism, which is thus expressed: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”, Matt.28:19. And “he that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”, Mark 16:16. This promise is also repeated, where the scripture calls baptism “the washing of regenerations” and the washing away of sins. Tit.3:5, Acts 22:16. (a)

or from those who think that the water is somehow magical…

Question 72. Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?

Answer: Not at all: (a) for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost cleanse us from all sin. (b)

But yet there is still something fundamentally spiritual going on in the Sacrament.

Question 73. Why then does the Holy Ghost call baptism “the washing of regeneration,” and “the washing away of sins”?

Answer: God speaks thus not without great cause, to-wit, not only thereby to teach us, that as the filth of the body is purged away by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ; (a) but especially that by this divine pledge and sign he may assure us, that we are spiritually cleansed from our sins as really, as we are externally washed with water. (b)

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